Martell's Plan to Rebuild Pier Hits a Bump
Correction: David Bassinder asked the town if Martell's can use the parking lot during rebuilding (see below)
Point Beach Council is not allowing Martell's Tiki Bar to use a town-owned parking lot to store lumber and equipment needed to rebuild the end of the pier destroyed by Sandy.
Councilmembers Kristine Tooker, Bret Gordon and Michael Corbally, at Tuesday night's council meeting, voted against Martell's to use a parking lot behind the south end of Risden's Beach and off New Jersey Avenue to store materials and equipment for roughly 5 to 10 days.
Counclimembers William Mayer and Stephen Reid voted yes. Councilmember Tim Lurie was absent.
Mayor Vincent Barrella did not get a vote because in the Borough Council form of government the mayor only votes when there is a tie.
Correction: Barrella said that David Bassinder, the former owner of Martell's, wrote the letter asking if Martell's can use the parking lot. (On Thursday, Barrella said that even though David Bassinder sold the business to his son, Scott, David signed the letter.)
Barrella said that he would have voted yes, even though he was galled that David Bassinder had the "chutzpah" to ask.
"Chutzpah is defined as killing your mother and father and then pleading for sympathy because you're an orphan," Barrella said. "My feeling is I can't believe he's asking. This is chutzpah. I believe that if I had a vote I would look at the situation as this is a very small man making a request of this council and this council should be bigger than the small man. I would have voted yes, but I don't have a vote."
"A Simple Request" That Got Complicated Fast
Scott and David Bassinder were not at the meeting but Martell's was represented by attorney Ronald Gasiorowski. Gasiorowski said the contractor planning the work for the pier said there is no other place to store the materials and equipment than the parking lot off New Jersey Avenue.
The contractor wanted to use that spot because the boardwalk was wiped out, making it easy to get equipment and materials onto the beach where they can be moved toward to Martell's.
When asked after the meeting what Plan B is, Gasiorowski said, "I don't think there is a Plan B. The contractor said that's the only spot."
"I'm really surprised at this vote," he said outside the meeting room afterwards. "They are making my client out to sound like a bad person and that's not true. This is just to use a lot. I believe they were prejudiced against my client. This decision is all because of the petulance of three council members."
Gasiorowski told the council it's a simple request to use a town lot for five to 10 days while Martell's decking and pier are rebuilt and that Martell's would secure a certificate of insurance to guarantee compensation for any damage that may occur.
But the "simple request" led to a long, heated discussion about whether certain council members have a conflict of interest because of connections to boardwalk business owners, whether boardwalk lawsuits should have been settled and how many interruptions during the discussion were one too many.
Corbally said Martell's pending lawsuits against the town and refusal to compromise on a settlement hardly laid the groundwork to be entitled to getting a favor.
"You can't keep poking people in the eye over and over and keep asking for favors," Corbally said.
Tooker and Gordon also said after the meeting that they can no longer say yes to boardwalk business requests when the businesses continue to pursue multiple lawsuits against the town.
"This is like someone who keeps suing me and costing me a lot of money and then asks, 'Hey, can I borrow your driveway? What would you do?" Tooker said.
"Now there will be people who will say we're not letting them use the lot," Tooker said. "But they don't realize they are suing us and those lawsuits are costing us money every day."
Mayer said afterwards that saying no was allowing politics to block a business' need to rebuild.
Efforts to negotiate towards a settlement on Martell's lawsuits against the town's attempts to close bars at midnight and against its parking plan have recently failed, as many others have in the past.
The effort to close bars at midnight was brought to a temporary halt by the state and is still pending. Barrella had said a couple of months ago that because the parking plan successfully kept loud bar patrons off residential streets, he could go along with foregoing the earlier bar closings if the boardwalk businesses dropped all pending lawsuits.
So far, no lawsuits have been dropped. Mayer, Lurie and Reid have been against the parking plan and earlier bar closing proposal.
Does Better Mean Bigger?
Gasiorowski said Scott Bassinder, owner of Martell's Tiki Bar, has contracted for restoration of the pier within the parameters of the original planning board site plan approval, within the foot print there prior to storm.
That was questioned by some of the council members. Gordon said Martell's Facebook page said the pier would be rebuilt "bigger and better."
The Martell's Facebook page has a Nov. 30 post that says "After 1 solid month of cleaning up more wood than I have touched in a lifetime, phase 2 begins reconstruction of our pier, it will be bigger, stronger & better than ever. I will keep you updated on how things are going, we will be open and ...ready by March 31, 2013 Easter Sunday."
"Leave My Wife Out of It"
But the discussion really kicked into high gear when Corbally said he has long been concerned with what he characterizes as "conflicts of interest" that Mayer and Lurie have voting on boardwalk matters.
Corbally said Mayer has a conflict of interest because his brother-in-law, Harry "Chip" DiCorcia, was Director of Security for Martell's this past summer.
Mayer, clearly livid, said he did not help DiCorcia get the job, that he did not discuss issues pertaining to Martell's with DiCorcia and that he has no conflict of interest.
"Chip doesn't need me to get him a job," Mayer said. "He's very qualified," he said, noting after the meeting that DiCorcia has extensive law enforcement experience.
"So because Chip worked for Martell's this summer, and hasn't worked since Labor Day, so because of that I have a conflict of interest and shouldn't vote on the parking lot?" Mayer asked Corbally.
"The legal question, Mike, and I know you didn't want to read the statute, but the legal question is whether I have a personal issue with Martell's that would impair my ability to vote, I don't," said Mayer, a lawyer.
"You just called Bill immoral," Reid said to Corbally. "You owe him an apology. You're making things up."
"OK, let's not engage in back and forth," Barrella said.
Reid countered, "It needs to be back and forth."
"No, no," said Barrella.
Mayer, continued to defend himself and said, glaring at Corbally, "And leave my wife out of it."
"Don't even go there," piped up Reid from the end of the dais.
"Stephen! Enough!" Barrella said.
"I'm trying to talk," Mayer said to Barrella.
"I know and Stephen is interrupting and I'm trying to control him," Barrella said, exasperated, turning towards Mayer. "Go ahead."
Mayer said to Corbally, "Let me ask you a question. You're a defendant in a lawsuit with Martell's. They're suing you personally. Does that impair your objectivity?"
Corbally said no.
"Mike and I exchanged emails over the weekend and I told him not to bring in this issue," Mayer said. "I told you last week that you were wrong."
Prompted by a question from Mayer about whether he had a conflict of interest, as defined by state statute, Gertner said, "No, because this is not an immediate family member. So there is not a legal conflict. After that you're left to your own devices."
Are a Father and Son Separate?
Corbally also said Lurie, in his work as an engineer for DW Smith Associates, represented Martell's Water's Edge in Bayville this past spring and, therefore, has a conflict of interest.
Gasiorowski said Martell's in Bayville was owned by David Bassinder, until he sold it about a week before Sandy struck, and that Martell's in Point Beach is owned by his son, Scott Bassinder, who had bought it from his father.
Lurie, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, echoed that David Bassinder owned the Bayville property and Scott Bassinder owned the Point Beach property when he did work for the Bayville restaurant.
"They're two separate entities," he said. "For three years, Dave's had no interest in the Tiki Bar."
He said he only worked for Martell's in Bayville last August on a planning board matter and that he has had no conflict of interest.
The Martell's restaurant in Bayville is now closed due to damage from Sandy, according to its website.
Lurie did not run for re-election and his term ends at the end of the year. He said he missed Tuesday's meeting for a health-related reason, may have to miss the Dec. 18 meeting because he may have to appear, for his job, at a Lakewood meeting, and that he does not know yet if he will attend the reorganization meeting on Jan. 1, which would be his last meeting until the point during the meeting when Andy Cortes is sworn in to replace him.